Google Home Mini review units had a bug that recorded everything, all the time
Google Home Mini is only shipping on October 19, but a major bug has already been reported — and fixed.
Google is no stranger to problematic hardware launches — recall how difficult it was to get a Pixel last year, or how frustratingly bad the Nexus 5’s camera was in 2013 — but this one may top it all.
According to Android Police owner, Artem Russakovskii, review units of the new Google Home Mini had a bug that caused it to intermittently listen to everything in its surrounding area, even when not explicitly called using the “OK Google” hotword.
Russakovskii discovered the bug after realizing that his Home Mini was responding to dialogue from his television. He then checked his My Activity Portal, which is where Google stores all the data obtained by its various services, including Google Assistant. That’s how he discovered that thousands of commands had been entered in the database without his knowledge.
The bug, which has since been fixed, turned out to be a malfunctioning touch panel on the fabric top of the Home Mini itself. See, the device, like the larger Google Home, can be manually activated by holding down on the center of the fabric; some early units were too sensitive and saw this touch panel activate with no actual human input.
Google has since released an update to fix the issue, and hopefully no retail units will have the problem.
Google has since released an over-the-air update to all early reviewer units (including mine) to disable the manual activation command entirely and plans to create a long-term fix before the product ships on October 19.
Of course, such a bug just reinforces the cliché that Google knows too much about its users, and that connected speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home are constantly listening to its users. The reality is that these units are always listening to its users — that’s how they detect the activation word — but they don’t keep any of the data except for the terms expressly said after the hotword itself. In fact, there’s no connection to the internet at all until “OK Google” is activated. That’s an important distinction here, but some people are still going to be reticent to invest in a system that could be storing personal information it wasn’t authorized to store.
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